LONDON — Woe betide the next referee who makes what is perceived to be a bad decision against an English team.

Christopher Davies

The price he could pay might be a media-led hate campaign or threats to his family that forces a premature retirement. English football reached a new low with Anders Frisk’s announcement that he was quitting refereeing immediately in the wake of critical comments by Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho.

To recap, Mourinho alleged that Barcelona coach Frank Rijkaard visited Frisk’s dressing room at halftime during Chelsea’s 2-1 defeat at Nou Camp three weeks ago.

There is not a scrap of evidence to back up the claim.

Mourinho then made remarks that many believed doubted the honesty and integrity of Frisk who sent off Didier Drogba for a second cautionable offense in the second-half — “I was not surprised,” said Mourinho, the inference obvious.

The level of threats received by the Swedish official saw him prematurely retire from football.

Chelsea’s response was the emptiest of gestures three days after Frisk’s unexpected decision to quit the game.

A club statement said: “We would like to make it absolutely clear that both the club as a whole and our manager Jose Mourinho condemn any threats made to Mr. Frisk, his family or friends which may have, in any way, influenced his decision to retire as a referee.

“If there is any evidence of such behavior by Chelsea fans then we would totally disassociate ourselves from them and we would welcome any such evidence to be passed to us so we can investigate and take the appropriate action.”

For a start how many people who send such letters are ever caught and prosecuted?

How about . . . none?

Names and addresses tend not to be listed.

Chelsea is saying it will take the “appropriate action” against anyone caught — which in effect means no one.

And what is the “appropriate action?”

Is Chelsea now the law of the land as well as a law unto itself?

What can they possibly do apart from perhaps take away a season ticket from anyone caught . . . which no one will be? However, it is reassuring to know that Mourinho condemns the threats made to Frisk.

This is the guy who made false claims (dismissed by UEFA) that an opposing coach visited Frisk’s dressing room . . . suggested that the phantom visit led to the sending off of Didier Drogba . . . doubted the referee’s integrity before the return leg . . . in a nutshell, Mourinho was directly and solely responsible for the negative publicity that provoked the threats that caused Frisk to retire.

Mourinho — and no one else — gave the thugs and mindless morons the ammunition to start the hate campaign.

Had he not said that Rijkaard visited Frisk’s dressing room (which he didn’t) . . . accepted Drogba’s red card as a possibly harsh but still justifiable second yellow card . . . had he not said he would like Frisk to referee the second game “so he can influence this match as he influenced the first and maybe help us” . . . Frisk would still be refereeing.

Volker Roth, chairman of UEFA’s referees committee, called Mourinho “the enemy of football” for his comments about Frisk.

Mourinho, making more and more enemies in the highest of places, threatened to sue Roth (he would have as much chance of winning as snow falling in Dubai in July) and suggested Frisk had another reason to retire. The Chelsea manager seems to be in a minority of one with his views.

“It’s a shame that Frisk has decided to leave football,” said Mourinho with all the sincerity of a politician making a promise. “If, as some people have suggested, this decision is linked to the criticism of his performance in the Barcelona game, it seems strange to me.

“There’s similar criticism every day, all around the world, for managers, directors and players. It’s a normal situation. A referee as experienced as Mr. Frisk would not take such a drastic action if effectively his retirement was caused by the criticism of how he performed in Barcelona-Chelsea.

“If other reasons exist, I’m unaware of them and would like them to be made clear.”

So it’s a “normal situation” for coaches and managers to berate referees is it?

Normal for a coach to tell lies about a referee being visited by an opposing coach and doubting the official’s integrity?

When Mourinho arrived in English football he was a breath of fresh air, but there are so many bad smells coming out of Chelsea at the moment gas masks should be issued.

Lars-Christer Olsson, chief executive of UEFA, said: “We will not allow the slandering of match officials to become part of pre-match tactics. We must sanction anyone within the football family who makes inflammatory statements that could jeopardize the security of match officials and their families and brings the game into disrepute.”

Will UEFA practice what it preaches?

It surely has the power to sanction Mourinho for his Frisk-baiting and while a fine would not hurt a millionaire employed by a billionaire, a two-game Champions League touchline ban would.

In the pursuit of success there is a limit to how far a coach can go.

Last summer, Urs Meier needed armed police protection after the Swiss referee disallowed an England goal against Portugal at Euro 2004.

Frisk said he felt “like a hunted animal — I don’t want a life like that” after the Mourinho-led onslaught.

The thugs who darken English football are no doubt waiting for their next victim.

The sooner coaches realize that public comments such as those by Mourinho about Frisk are ammunition to the mindless morons who think hate mail is an acceptable pastime, the better.

CHELSEA COULD also be in the dock for making an illegal approach to Arsenal fullback Ashley Cole.

The way both parties are saying it was not they who set up the meeting would be laughable if the matter were not so serious.

Cole and his representative Jonathan Barnett’s version of events is that they had a meeting in a private room of a central London hotel with Israeli super-agent Pini Zahavi (who just happens to have done a lot of work for Chelsea over the past two years) and in walked Jose Mourinho and chief executive Peter Kenyon — the mother of all coincidences.

It is rather like trying to convince the wife that the lipstick on your collar was the result of a girl tripping over and falling on you while you were on a train.

In the finest English tradition Cole wanted to make his excuses and leave immediately, but according to reports, Chelsea, making the most of its totally unexpected liaison with the England international, urged him to stay.

Mourinho (that man again) apparently told Cole: “Listen to what we have to say. We are looking to sign two players this season. The first one we have secured is Steven Gerrard. The other is a left-back. You are the best left-back in the world and we want you.”

Cole was allegedly told Chelsea would pay him £110,000 a week and Arsenal £25 million for his services. “Thanks, but no thanks,” said Cole.

Chelsea claims it was Barnett who set up the meeting and that no offer was made to Cole. Everyone seems to agree a meeting took place, but all parties say it was not at their instigation.

The Premier League must decide if any charges should be brought for a breach of its “tapping up” rules and if it does, against whom.

Arsenal travels to Chelsea next month and it will be interesting to see if Cole plays and the reception he receives from the home fans.

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